“Anyway . . . As you were saying . . .”

In Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, originally published in France in 1947,  99 exercises recount, in 99 different ways, a banal anecdote about a young man – wearing an atypical hat and possessed of an unusually long neck – embroiled in a minor dispute on a bus. The exercises employ different types of speech (say, Cockney), different types of written prose (for example, a publisher’s blurb or a formal letter), and different types of poetry (haiku, free verse, sonnet, etc.), among numerous other “styles.” “Promotional” is a previously unpublished exercise, translated by Chris Clarke, appearing in a new edition of the book recently released by New Directions.

 “One day on the platform.”

“The what?”

“The platform.”

“The platform?”

“Yes, the platform of a bus. You don’t know what the platform of a bus is?”

“No. First of all, buses don’t have platforms.”

“Well, my good sir, in days gone by they had them!”

“Oh bah.”

“One day, then, on the platform of an S-Line Bus . . .”

“Of the what line?”

“Of the S-Line. S-Line. S.”

“S? The letter of the alphabet?”

“Yes, number 84.”

“Oh, I see! The line on which the cars don’t have platforms . . .”

“Exactly! Well, one day, on a then still-extant platform of that formerly otherwise designated line, I noticed a young man whose hat . . .”

“Whose what?”

“Whose hat.”

“Whose hat . . .”

“Yes, whose hat. You’re not going to tell me that you don’t know wot a hat is?”

“Of course I know wot a hat is. But a young man . . . whose hat . . .”

“Good sir, back in the day when buses platformed, young people wore hats.”

“You don’t say . . .”

“Well, my story doesn’t seem to be all that interesting to you.”

“Please continue . . . ”

“I’ll spare you the details. The fact remains that an hour later . . .”

“A what?”

“An hour later . . .”

“That’s not very long.”

“Yes, it isn’t very long. That’s what makes the anecdote interesting – otherwise it would be insipid.”

“Anyway . . . As you were saying . . .”

“An hour later I saw him once again in the company of a friend who was questioning the sartorial value of a button . . .”

“Of a what?”

“Of a button. You’re not about to tell me that you don’t know what a button is. A – BUT – TON.”

“Oh a button! (full of joy) A button! But that’s the only thing that never goes out of fashion! Ladies, gentlemen, purchase your buttons from the F.F.B.B.F., the French Federation of Bituminous Button Fabricators – Non-oxidising! Non-decaying! Non-dissolving! – you have nothing to lose, the one you should choose is a button to use!”

— Translated by Chris Clarke